The free street parties are where it is at for carnival. Most of the action takes place in the centre of Lapa, a large open area, in one of the less salubrious areas of town, disected by an old arched aquaduct that nowadays is used to carry a tram from one part of the city to another.
The area is surrounded by bars and small clubs and under the arches themselves there is usually music of one type or another. One of the ones towards the end tends to be where the drummers and singers from any of the parades that have happened locally end up to play through to the early hours. Everywhere there are stalls of beer, caiprihina and some very dodgy looking meat-on-a-stick things. Between the crowds scuttle people picking up all the empty cans from the street, not part of a government initiative for cleaniliness, rather for the R$1 they will get for taking them back to the scrap metal merchants. Pissing in the street isn´t illegal here and one of the less endearing memories of the place is the smell, something how I would imagine the world´s largest urinal. In the final arch there was a bar playing the closest approximation to 'dance' music we could find and on more than one occasion we ended up there until the early hours. Most of the first 5 nights in Rio we ended up in Lapa - my body doesn´t like me anymore but definitely no regrets.